Use of Learning Technology to Enhance Learning in the Science Classroom

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Identify and critically evaluate the use of learning technology to enhance learning in the classroom.

The scope of this assignment concerns the uses of learning technology with respects to science as a subject. The discipline of science has always been closely interlinked with that of technology. From the first scientific instruments, to the latest advances in computer components, science has embraced and sought to use technology to understand and affect the world around it.

In asking the first question “What do we mean by learning technology” we are challenged to pin down definitive terms in a fast moving digital environment. The amount of knowledge in the world is doubling every year and a half, every eleven months, or every 12 hours depending on who you believe and what field of scientific research you are studying. We all think we understand what technological enhanced learning (TEL) is; but definitions and perspectives vary (Kirkwood, Price 2013) and in seeking to answer this question myself I came across many similar but equally different variations of TEL, and indeed I would often find an added catchall phrase which would muddy the meaning further; such as the Association of Learning Technology’s definition, which vaguely adds “related technologies” into its assertion that learning technology is…

“The broad range of communication, information and related technologies

 that can be used to support learning, teaching and assessment.”

                                                                              https://www.alt.ac.uk/

 

It may seem semantic, but my concern is that if we cannot clarify exactly what we mean then as researchers we are hindered in arriving at a considered assessment.

For the purposes of this essay I will remove reference to the more specific scientific technology typically associated with measurement in practical work and focus on the technology used to enhance the learning experience within the classroom. Where I make reference to “Digital technology” I will apply the Educational Endowment Foundation definition, as it is a widely respected research body in the field of education. They state that digital technology is…

“The use of computer and technology assisted strategies to support

             learning within schools. Approaches in this area vary widely, but generally

            involve:

 

  • technology for students, where learners use programmes or applications

designed for problem solving or open-ended learning; or 

 

  • technology for teachers, such as interactive whiteboards or learning platforms.”                                                                          (EEF n.d.)

The digital technologies available in my placement include whiteboards (which are not interactive), projectors, laptops and/or networked desktop computers, the internet, and some chrome books. This is a technologically sparse in comparison to some schools that have immersive classrooms, individual iPads for each student, interactive whiteboards, smart tables, digital textbooks, sound fields and networked learning. I have been fortunate in having access to interactive whiteboards, sound fields and class iPads in my previous school and I will make some comparative references to these experiences later in the essay.

The learning platforms currently available to me at Thomas Gainsborough School, include Seneca, Doddle and GCSE pod. I could access Google classrooms, but this is presently limited to information technology and A level students only. Key stage three and four students are not allowed to have their mobile phones out in the classroom, and the availability of mobile internet enabled devices is limited to a small number of chrome books.

There is often an assumption that digital technology within the classroom will automatically bring about revolutionary changes in teaching and learning processes (Bang and Luft 2013); however several sectors of the teaching profession have challenged that assumption with their own conflicting research studies (Arkorful and Abaidoo 2015). Classroom enhancement as Anderson (2016) points out is not as simple as introducing a popular or business piece of technology. Enhancement implies adding value through the introduction of something superior. This almost always involves the assessment of cost vs reward in my experience.

A great deal of money is spent on digital technology, both in terms of hardware and software. Digital technology can be expensive to purchase and rapidly becomes obsolete. The last IT capital spend at Thomas Gainsborough school was in 2016-7 and ran to eighty five thousand pounds. The money was spent overhauling and replacing the hardware in the IT suites and replacing some I-macs and projectors. Maintenance costs since have been at the level of 5 thousand pounds per annum with no further capital expenditure planned for the immediate future. Compare this to the average yearly IT budget  in the UK secondary sector which is fifty eight thousand pounds per annum (BESA 2017), and Thomas Gainsborough School is an efficient school at a time when schools are tightly financially constrained; even so this expenditure needs to be justified in terms of learning outcomes.

So maybe what we ought to be asking ourselves is what exactly what will be enhanced when digital technology is used in the 21st century class laboratory. What improvements can be expected and how can those improvements be determined? Are we looking at improving the circumstances and surroundings of our learners, for example with interactive learning environments within immersive classrooms? Or is it more valuable to improve the technological tools available to teachers, such as data loggers and visualisers, thereby  facilitating the teacher’s delivery of information to students.

The use of technology to improve students’ learning is an often discussed topic in educational circles (TES 2018). A quick straw poll of TES magazine between August and October 2018 showed that technological issues were raised half a dozen times at least (appendx A).

The Learning and Technology Library (https://www.learntechlib.org/about/) holds some 30 years of archived content. 135,000 peer reviewed journals and 265,000 conference papers devoted to using technology in pedagogical teaching practice. It could be argued that much of this literature has become obsolete as information technology is constantly moving forwards so quickly. The sheer range and volume of different technologies and learning platforms available today is staggering. Taking just apps in isolation, there were 80,000 that were categorised as ‘educational’ in 2015, despite the vast majority being self-categorised by their creators and  unverified as to their educational content by any professional body (Hirsh-Pasel, Zosh and Golinkoff 2015)

While unregulated and untested technology may cause teachers to express reservations; that is not to say that the teaching profession dismisses the importance of all digital technologies. BESA (2017) notes that 61% of teachers said that they felt the use of technology in their classroom required further professional development, particularly with respects to e-safety. This indicates a desire to protect students, while maximising the on line learning potential that digital technology can bring.

Almost all classroom now have a desktop with an internet connection and I feel that most teachers would expect this as a minimum technological standard of provision. The use of an internet linked desktop and projector onto a whiteboard, is the main piece of digital technology I have available to me. I may or may not choose to supplement this with a visualiser  in order to show work that I have on my lab bench during class.

Prensky (2005 stresses that teachers need to stay up to speed with technology in order to maintain relevance in the present digital environment. I think it is useful to remember that although internet access through a digital device is almost universal, there are still some children who do not have access to the world wide web, and this must be considered both as an aspect of differentiation and with respects to pupil premium students, inclusion (Younie and Bradshaw 2018). That said I have to broadly agree with Prensky (2005) that the vast majority of people are internet enabled, whether through a shared desktop, a personal laptop or a smart phone in their pocket.

I feel that this is a good opportunity to introduce connectivism as a learning theory, although whether it is a fully developed learning theory or not is debateable (Copp and Hill 2008). Connectivism originated from creators George Siemens and Stephen Downes (2005)  who examined how the changes in society and our present culture’s information technologies impact on the way those learners acquire and use knowledge.

There have been concerns raised about Connectivism’s claim to be a new theory as many of its underlying ideas can be identified in existing learning theories, particularly constructivist models (Goldie 2016). The failure to adequately explain how knowledge and learning can reside in non-human appliances is also contentious and lack of empirical evidence to support the adequacy of learning still needs to be addressed (Kartensi 2013).

There are also issues surrounding the lack of critical engagement which undermines connectivist theory. This phenomena has colloquially come to be known as the “echo chamber” effect. (Williams, McMurry, Kurz and Lambert 2015). Scientific debates such as climate change and vaccination can become polarised very quickly and I have noticed that discussion then disintegrates as participants return to their safe areas of the internet where their views rightly or wrongly will be reinforced rather than challenged ( Quattriocchi, Scala and Sunstein 2016).

Hogg and Lomicky’s (2012) study on connectivism found that while autonomy and openness were present amongst participants, interaction was less evident and actually needed a facilitator to be present to promote meaningful engagement. I have noticed this effect in my present on line studies, where other class members comment, but do so as individuals and not as a group, thereby not engaging effectively together with the presentation at hand.

It is widely accepted that the internet has now become so ubiquitous that students need to have a good working knowledge of its opportunities and threats. I believe that the strength of the internet is the information capacity and adaptability of the resource. A wide variety of material can be accessed and shared at the click of button. This can be very useful in the lab environment where finding more obscure information, or exploring a topic in greater depth might be useful. However, students need to be able to apply relevant and correctly spelled searches is they are to succeed in finding relevant information for themselves (Hinostroza, Ibieta, Labbé, and Soto 2018).

There is little doubt in my mind that using the multimedia aspects of the internet makes a lesson more visual and engaging. For instance I have used it to show students just how reactive some of the more impressive alkali metal reactions are. We had conducted a practical, but it is simply too dangerous to float rubidium or caesium on water.  In this instance the internet provided a video resource that could be played to students and allowed them to see for themselves the violence of the reaction without their safety being compromised. The internet permits access to specialist scientific content, and can be used in other innovative ways, such as to invite a guest speaker to address the class via skype (Merle and Craig 2017).

Platforms are also useful nodes in the digitally saturated world (Ooi, Hew and Lee 2018). A platform/search engine that is regularly used in the classroom is You Tube. It is simple to search content and there is a significant amount of relevant scientific knowledge to share. In the classroom I have observed that You Tube clips are regularly streamed in so as to make a significant point or illustrate an idea. However, I am concerned that modelling the use of You Tube as a digital learning tool has implications for student wellbeing. Not all parts of You Tube are safe or trustworthy in terms of accurate content, and if students copy their tutors and undertake their online research using YouTube as a first port of call they can easily become distracted and diverted away to more harmful areas of the site. There are also huge volumes of advertising targeted towards users, some of which may not be appropriate.

This brings into play issues of safeguarding and e-safety. All teachers gave a duty of care towards their pupils and have a legal responsibility for all aspects of their safety, including online safety (Appendix B). Ofsted defines e-safety as: ”The school’s ability to protect and educate (my italics) pupils in their use of technology”. This reinforces my previous opinion that the presence of the on line world is so embedded in our day to day lives that we have to teach students how to stay safe on line as they cannot function as twenty first century individuals without being digitally aware.

Being exposed to illegal, inappropriate or harmful material and being allowed to engage in online behaviour that increases the likelihood of harm must be avoided. School should be a place of safety and teachers need to gauge and minimise risk. The Internet also presents misinformation and opinion alongside more useful material. This is another of the internet’s weaknesses. Students must be taught how to critique information so that they can avoid misinformation which could cause them detriment (Palmer 2015)

I personally feel that when online homework is set, teachers need to display particular vigilance, as students are naturally curious, and even if a website is and of itself isn’t risky further hyperlinks may be. For this reason I prefer to use a specialist science site, such as Doddle. This has been paid for by the school, contains no advertising or inappropriate tasks and furthermore has the ability to see which students have completed and viewed the homework. This is a useful tool in assessing student engagement and progress as the marking assessment and data analysis is already started for the teacher and can be accessed remotely.

Attempts to use the now commonplace computer in order to enhance learning began with the efforts of early pioneers such as Atkinson and Suppes in the 1960’s  (Donovan, Bransford and Pellegrino 2000). Their computer based learning experiments of these pioneers quickly grew in sophistication and size. Atkinson (2014) still stresses that success in this field is driven by individualisation, which is not the same as personification found in many of today’s courses. Instead he and Suppes looked at control theory to identify an appropriate system of instruction based on the student’s previous performance and tailoring the next steps for optimal results (Psychologicalscienceorg, 2018). I believe that this is an important point. The quality of technological instruction needs to be high and this is where educators come into their own. Teachers have significant insights through their professional understanding about learning and they need to apply that knowledge  judiciously to on line material on their students’ behalf.

The computer itself is a significant but readily accepted piece of technology found in almost every educational setting in the United Kingdom. The computer’s physical presence changes the atmosphere and structure in a classroom (Accuosti 2014). If there is only one computer within the classroom as there often is in my present school; then its potential to enhance instruction is only as good as the teacher managing it, becasue there is little opportunity under these circumstances, for students to manipulate scientific data or explore for themselves. This makes the computer a very teacher centric piece of technology.

However, students with SEN or EAL do have access to Chromebooks and this provides them with a sense of autonomy in their learning. The SEN student struggling with writing can type and upload notes onto an email or google drive where the teacher can view it, or make comment online and the EAL student can be supported by the technology which allows them to work more independently and  at their own pace (Evans 2017).

Bang and Luft (2013) looked at secondary science teacher use of technology in the first five years and found that teachers in the early stages of their careers used technology as an adjunct to more teaching practices such as didactic lecturing. PowerPoint was the technological tool most commonly favoured by the new science teachers but they applied it in very limited ways to present information.

In considering how I personally use PowerPoint I have reached two conclusions. The first is that the need to have physical proximity to my computer in order to move through my PowerPoint presentation. This  limits my movement around the class and affects interactions with my students. As a result my behaviour management in class has sometimes suffered.  Secondly my early lessons involved me using PowerPoint as a support to structure my lessons. This did not allow for the natural flow of ideas and discussion so vital to independent learning. I therefore concluded that I needed to keep my PowerPoint to standalone slides, engage in more board work driven by class discussion and purchase a remote control clicker so that I can continue to circulate, control behaviour and see what the students are putting in their textbooks, while continuing to talk about the topic in hand.  Writing this essay has made me consider further how constrained I am by using PowerPoint. It is a very useful tool but I am now searching for more creative ways to use it.

I feel that the computer has become so much part of the furniture that we fail to even see it anymore. It has become a thing that we all have a relationship with, but we do not necessarily consider what that relationship might bring to our teaching. Certainly the students who are digital natives cannot imagine a world without computers, (nor can some of the teachers).  I think it is worth mentioning here that generationally we manage computers and the internet very differently. The older generation tend to download information, treating the internet more as a vast library of “stuff”, whereas the younger generation view the internet as somewhere to “play in”, create and deposit information (Prensky 2005).

Computers are frequently linked with interactive whiteboards, and although there are no interactive whiteboards in the science department, there are interactive whiteboards in the Access classes which I have to opportunity to use. Interactive whiteboards are essentially digital screens that have a touch capability, allowing the user to interact with the board using their fingers or a specific pen as a touch screen. The manufacturers of interactive whiteboards argue that their technology offers powerful interactivity, an ability to modify information in real time and spontaneous access to a wide range of multimedia resources that can be manipulated and annotated.

One of the positives of an interactive whiteboard is that students can interact directly as a group with more media rich variety. Instead of coming up to simply write on the board, students can manipulate objects, or tick off correct answers and be rewarded with immediate visual feedback  (Al Faki 2014). I have noticed that many students enjoy interacting in this way and engaging lessons that focus on a group task such as a matching activity can be run without fear of students “cheating”. However, there is still the issue of only one student being able to use the board at any one time.

Anything that can be done on a computer monitor can be replicated on the interactive whiteboard. I have used a whiteboard to help a class annotate a document, then printed off the resultant screen shot to go into the student’s books. Students who weren’t confident writing on a board were encouraged to try and tap on the appropriate sections and be rewarded with a video clip of information, or engage with drag and drop activities which were far less threatening and more in line with the gamified gratification they have come to expect. One advantage of this kind of technology is that interactive touch screens are increasingly found in many aspects of everyday life and it feels appropriate to use technology that students will be facing in everyday situations.

There are also disadvantages to this digital technology. Al Faki (2014) identifies some of these as being teacher’s lack of ICT skills in using  interactive whiteboards, management not having a clear vision about how interactive whiteboards should be used, technical support lacking when interactive whiteboards break and students not engaging if the whiteboard activity isn’t engaging enough.  I have found that the interactive whiteboards need regular calibration, and even if they are off slightly, the effect of trying to write with a pen that doesn’t record exactly where its point is can be very disorientating. Another weakness is that if the user is not fully cognisant of everything that the board can do then there is a very real risk of the interactive whiteboard becoming a glorified dry wipe board. And technology is never 100% fool proof. When it breaks, if the lesson plan is heavily dependent on the whiteboard, then the lesson is at risk of being compromised. These opinions broadly agree with Al Faki’s (2014) findings.

In a similar vein is the touchscreen application “Seneca” which is in use at Thomas Gainsborough. It is a multi-choice interactive information delivery application that can be accessed on line or via a smart phone app. The programme itself has an algorithm which throws up extra questions to address areas of weakness in understanding, thereby providing a level of individualisation previously advocated by Atkinson (2014). In terms of e-safety I am particularly impressed because Seneca allocates avatar pictures and names. This means that students are not at risk of choosing inappropriate identification pictures or providing their potentially identifiable real names. In my opinion this is a small but very effective tweak that helps keep students safe.

Technology has changed the classroom and extended its reach (Bishop and Verleger 2013). The idea of a flipped classroom or inverted classroom has been around since the mid 2000’s and is often credited to two chemistry teachers (Arnold-Garza 2014).In this method of instruction students are given the information they need before the lesson and spend their time in the lesson applying that information (Lo and Hew 2017) A good example of a scientific website appropriate for flipped learning would be Phet https://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulations/category/new  where students can carry out simulated modelling of scientific concepts. Also Doddle is a platform where students can safely be set presentations to work through prior to class. I have not used a flipped classroom in my teaching as of yet, but when I do I would hope that working through some of the material would give student the opportunity to arrive at a lesson having had some exposure to the correct models for the topic. This I hope would help to minimise misconceptions and provide avenues for early discussion. Lo and Hew (2017) sound a note of caution concerning flipped classrooms; that being students will often skip the pre class activities and creating the flipped materials takes up a lot of teacher time. It may be that flipped classrooms are better suited to A level students who are more invested in their courses of study.

Thomas Gainsborough School only use Google classrooms in its sixth form. Having spoken to the A level tutors, anecdotally they tell me that this digital technology is useful as an electronic catalogue of work that tracks the learning journey of the sixth form students and  provides a way of quickly and seamlessly presenting a wide variety of material, keeping and organising it efficiently and enabling good communication with participating students.  The downsides as explained to me by the same tutors are the risk to data security, the risk of real time documents being deleted and the lack of teacher training.

A Google classroom appears to have several advantages. The first being that work is stored on the cloud. This allows it to be accessed from any device that is internet enabled. Another advantage is Google’s services, such as their Gmail, Calendar, Google Drive etc. all integrate effortlessly. This means that a student can toggle quickly between You Tube and Google docs without having to log in and out of separate applications (Madhavi, Mohan and Nalla 2018).

Assessment via google classrooms can be provided efficiently and be seen in real time. Students can proceed through the material at their own pace and because work is stored in the cloud it is difficult to lose it (Heggart and Yoo 2018). The ongoing dialogue with students is a very attractive feature; students are notified when comments are made by teacher and similarly to tutors when they are read by students. This has the potential to lead to an online discussion between the student and the tutor (Iftakhar 2016) which it is presumed facilitates greater depth of understanding.

While reflecting upon this topic I can to realise just how much of a digital immigrant I am. I view technology as being useful in terms of gathering and presenting data, be that in the form of presenting PowerPoint to a class, or collecting and analysing correct answers after a test. I can converse in a Google class thread but although I can web surf  with the best of them I am never completely at home In the digital world and I view it with no small amount of suspicion because I wonder what it has replaced in terms of social independence and original thought. Students on the other hand, are completely assimilated into the digital world. They like to multitask and can simultaneously listen to music, send picture messages, and finish their science homework all at the same time. Technology is completely embedded into their lives and therefore we as teachers have to find ways to provide quality learning experiences for them if we are to stay relevant to them. This does not inevitably mean building immersive classroom, because technology for its own sake doesn’t necessarily move learning forward. As with all new frontiers there are e-dangers that students need to protected from and taught how to manage.  Within connectivism the process of learning is concerned with information exchange and co-operative network activity. This approach I believe will facilitate lifelong learning, but only provided the echo chamber is cracked enough to allow valuable alternative opinion in.

 

 

References

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Appendix A 

Digital technological disussions within TES magazine from Aug to Oct 2018

3 Aug – Video games do enhance learning?

10 Aug – Ask not how we can deploy technology but should we?

17th Aug – Why a robot will never be able to do your marking.

14th  Sept – Computer games classroom aid or threat to the profession?

12th  October – What works in the lab may hit a wall in the classroom. (article discussing online reading programmes)

19th Oct – Wheeling out a robot to “discuss” AI was artificial and unintelligent.

 

Appendix B

Legal & professional responsibilities as enshrined in domestic law                                                                                                 

Children Act 1989

3 Meaning of “parental responsibility”

(1) In this Act “parental responsibility” means all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property.

(2) It also includes the rights, powers and duties which a guardian of the child’s estate (appointed, before the commencement of section 5, to act generally) w ould have had in relation to the child and his property.

(3) The rights referred to in subsection (2) include, in particular, the right of the guardian to receive or recover in his own name, for the benefit of the child, property of whatever description and wherever situated which the child is entitled to receive or recover.

(4) The fact that a person has, or does not have, parental responsibility for a child shall not affect—

(a) any obligation which he may have in relation to the child (such as a statutory duty to maintain the child); or

(b) any rights which, in the event of the child’s death, he (or any other person) may have in relation to the child’s property.

(5) A person who—

(a) does not have parental responsibility for a particular child; but

(b) has care of the child,

may (subject to the provisions of this Act) do what is reasonable in all the circumstances of the case for the purpose of safeguarding or promoting the child’s welfare.

 

(My bolds and italics) http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1989/41/enacted Accessed 8th Dec 2018

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